Missile attack widens gulf war


stepped-up U.S. raids expected Israelis refrain from retaliation --for the moment WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun Lyle Denniston, Mark Matthews and Karen Hosler of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Mideast war entered a dangerous new phase yesterday as Iraq launched a nighttime missile attack against Israel.

Iraq also fired a Soviet-made Scud rocket at Saudi Arabia, but it was shot down by a U.S.-built Patriot missile, the Pentagon announced.

Israeli authorities said that as many as 10 Iraqi missiles may have been fired and that at least three struck populated areas in and around the coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Twelve people were injured, none seriously, according to preliminary reports.

The Soviet-made missiles carried conventional weapons, described as "small bombs" by Israeli authorities, and not chemical weapons, as some early reports suggested.

There was no immediate sign of an Israeli counterattack. Zalman Shoval, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said at a late-night news conference that Israel reserved the right to respond militarily but emphasized his country's restraint in absorbing the attack.

Last week, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger went to Israel in an effort to persuade the Israeli government to absorb an Iraqi attack and allow U.S.-led forces to respond.

President Bush was described as "outraged" over the attack, according to a brief White House statement that also condemned Iraq's "further aggression." Israel said that the United States had promised to retaliate.

The Iraqi strike, making good on President Saddam Hussein's threat to hit Israel if war broke out, caught most Israelis in bed.

The first rockets landed about 2 a.m. Israeli time today (7 p.m. EST yesterday), 24 hours after U.S. bombers struck Baghdad in an effort to force Iraqi troops from neighboring Kuwait.

The attack dashed U.S. hopes of keeping the war from spreading to the Jewish state and put a swift end to the euphoria generated by the initial success of the allied bombing campaign. Among the first targets of the round-the-clock raids against Iraq were missile sites in the western Iraqi desert closest to Israel.

Mr. Hussein's strategy of drawing Israel into the Persian Gulf conflict has long been aimed at pressuring Syria and other Arab nations to quit the U.S.-led international coalition.

The Iraqi missile attack against Saudi Arabia, the first of the war, was foiled by a Patriot missile launched from a U.S. Army base in the northern Saudi desert, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said.

Mr. Williams also said that U.S. aircraft were attacking the launch sites in western Iraq from which the attack on Israel had been launched.

Israeli radio said Mr. Bush has promised Israel that the United States will retaliate "intensively" against Iraq for the attack.

News that the Iraqi missiles had landed on Israel's Mediterranean coast came as hundreds of allied aircraft and missiles continued to pummel targets throughout Iraq and Kuwait. Mr. Bush and other allied leaders proclaimed the initial air campaign a success, raising expectations for a swift and relatively bloodless victory on the allied side. World financial markets soared on the ,, prospect.

"We are using force, and we're not going to stop until he fully complies with the [U.N.] resolutions," Mr. Bush told reporters before a Cabinet meeting at the White House. "Let's not worry about what we call it. . . . We want to make it clear: full compliance."

With U.S.-led forces in firm command of the skies, over the Persian Gulf region, attacking allied airplanes again met only minimal enemy resistance as a second night of bombing began.

U.S. pilots said, however, that clouds over Iraq and Kuwait had hindered the first daytime raids.

Early allied casualty reports were surprisingly light. Out of more NTC than 1,000 missions flown against Iraq in the first 14 hours of the war, only four allied aircraft were reported down, including one U.S. Navy F-A-18 fighter jet, whose pilot became the first U.S. combat fatality. He was identified as Lt. Cmdr. Michael S. Speicher, 33, of Jacksonville, Fla., based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga.

Baghdad radio disputed those claims, giving a count of 65 allied planes downed. Iraq also reported 23 civilian dead and 66 wounded but gave no figures on military casualties, which may have been heavy as B-52 bombers dropped tons of explosives on Iraqi ground forces, including the elite Republican Guards unit.

Iraq's failure to put up much of an aerial fight prompted comparisons to the six-day 1967 Arab-Israeli war, in which Israel's overwhelming air superiority humiliated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies.

U.S. military leaders sought to dampen such talk.

Among the leading concerns of U.S. military planners had been Iraq's ability to unleash its top offensive weapon, the Soviet-made Scud missile, from mobile launchers that are difficult to target. Most, if not all, of the fixed Scud bases were thought to have been destroyed in the initial air attacks, officials said.

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